Tzun quickly rounded the corner, discretely dropping the wallet he’d just lifted from an inattentive merchant and nimbly feathering his fingers through a thick set of freshly printed bills. That should be enough for an entire week … or more, he congratulated himself. That, of course, would depend on which numbers were written on the bills and how wisely he used them – but these details were of little consequence. This was a game of survival. But then, in tough times, it seemed like everything was about survival.
Short and somewhat scrawny, Tzun had some difficulty in quickly making it to his destination without drawing attention to himself by running. A brisk walk was all he could discretely afford. Two more buildings and he could pass through the alleyway to Mariner’s Market Street where he would quickly disappear in a crowd. Dressed in beggarly clothes, eyes would naturally divert themselves away from the gaunt young man rather than retrace his visage for a second glance. From there, he would only be a few blocks from his modest apartment where he lived with his mother and extended family. This morning’s prize would be well received.
But fate couldn’t bear to smother Tzun in blankets of kindness for too long.
Before he turned the next corner into the alleyway, muffled screams covered by scuffling and hushed chuckling teased the air. Blasted fate! He didn’t need any trouble – but it was coming. Primordial instincts from deep within screamed to his consciousness that something wasn’t right – beyond the apparent crime, something felt out of place – but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
Four young men who clearly devoted more time to building muscles rather than character gathered around some dainty brunette, a young girl who almost looked too innocent to have set foot in this neighborhood. Bloody bricks! Tzun silently cursed, considering this new dynamic and quickly absorbing every new detail of this ever-changing pathway. The dumpster was farther away from the west wall than normal. A hubcap lay at an angle, leaning next to that same wall. A small box of screws lay spilled near the feet of two of the larger boys – one of whom was holding the girl; two stacked boxes of junk appeared undisturbed since he had seen them there earlier that morning; the antique chair that had been next to the dumpster now sported a broken leg and the upholstery was looser near the top of the leg stump. Other than these few details, the alleyway looked precisely the same as it had a few hours earlier.
Behind Tzun, footsteps approached but slowed; hesitant, they either stopped or became silent. Above those feet, a hand brushed aside an over-length jacket and placed a recently discarded wallet into a back pocket.
If he played his cards well, Tzun estimated that he could divert his eyes to the left, walk along the other side of the alleyway, and then freely pass by unharmed – the thugs would leave him alone. He posed no threat to their fun and they would presume verbal threats would keep him from reporting anything to the police. Then, the distraction would be over. To them, Tzun would be nothing more than a lanky sixteen year old beggar, unworthy of their attention.
But he was Uzzit so he couldn’t in good conscience do nothing.
Shoving the stash of money deeper into his pocket and underneath a fold designed to hide prize lifts from family members when necessary, Tzun stopped walking, stood as erect and intimidating as his thin five-foot-nine frame could muster, slowly raised his head, and ordered the thugs to release the girl in the most threatening voice he could muster. Despite his best efforts, the inevitable unwelcomed response came as expected: they chortled and then laughed openly.
It always went down like this.
Carefully observing the spilled screws and the lone hubcap, Tzun focused his thoughts on the weather, creating a quick gust of wind to cover his Uzzit magic. As he knelt down to pick up a chunk of junk metal from the ground next to his feet, he sent the hubcap shooting into the lead thug’s ankle, a volley of dust into the eyes of another boy, and the box of screws into the neck and face of another. For the boy holding the girl, Tzun sent a vivid hallucination that acid had splattered all over his body; fierce burning sensations turned to panic as the thug watched his own skin melting away. When his grip loosened from shock, the girl shook herself loose and bolted. Tzun threw the chunk of metal at her captor just long enough to give her the head start she needed. Although the metal hit its target, Tzun’s efforts might as well have come from an eight year old girl unaccustomed to throwing balls – it didn’t do much anything. For that matter, none of the attacks caused any significant damage – even the screws did little more than scratch the thug’s face – but they did create the distraction needed to save the girl. Now it was his turn.
Quicker than anyone expected, Tzun was darting behind the dumpster, hoping to make his own escape. But from his limited perspective, he failed to notice one changed detail down the alleyway: entirely hidden in the shadows, two large antique batteries were resting against the wall on the other side of the dumpster. Tripping over them, Tzun stumbled heavily and just long enough to keep him from moving around the couch he knew would be resting by the wall on that same side. One stumble led to another until Tzun found himself face down and ungracefully sprawled over the ground. A moment later, vicious kicks repeatedly pounded his side and at least two blows connected with his head, leaving his ears ringing and his vision cloudy.
That wasn’t quite how he planned things.
He thought he heard a whistle but wasn’t sure. And then, that familiar feeling returned: something wasn’t quite right.
Four sets of footsteps hurriedly ran down the alley away from Mariner’s Market Street while another softer set methodically plodded towards Tzun. Propping himself up on one elbow, Tzun strained to open his eye to see what new trouble might be coming his direction only to discover that his eye was throbbing and that he couldn’t see much of anything just yet. He reached up to touch it and winced at the pain. Somewhere, in the midst of that scuffle, he’d received a blow to his eye that he hadn’t immediately noticed – but he certainly felt it now. Turning his head further, he opened his other eye to find a rough looking but clean cut fellow reaching his hand out to lift him up.
From boots to a hat that covered any hair that wasn’t freshly buzzed, leather trappings of every sort decorated the newcomer. If he wasn’t nearly bald, you couldn’t tell so long as that hat was on. And as he softly smiled, he held one eye slightly squinted – as if it had to squint because of an unpleasantly large scar that reached from the middle of his bottom eyelid and through his hairline where it passed over a piece of missing ear – neatly sliced off in a fairly straight line. Further markings on this man’s face betrayed some serious time on the streets. He looked downright rugged.
“That’s quite a talent you have,” he offered as he helped Tzun back to his feet.
Still dizzy and trying to keep his body from visibly trembling, Tzun struggled to retain his footing for a moment before responding. “Talent?” he feigned in ignorance.
“You’re Uzzit aren’t you kid?” The rough tone of voice left Tzun uncertain whether or not a question had been asked.
“The wind …” he began.
“Don’t feed me that bull,” the street warrior interrupted with an overly confident air. “I know Uzzit when I see it.” His rigid gaze carefully scanned over Tzun who still looked more than a little dazed and worse for the wear. This boy barely belongs on the streets, the man silently considered. He’s lucky to have made it this far along. And he was right: if Tzun hadn’t been Uzzit, he would have been dead months ago – and the young boy was acutely aware of this fact.
“How would you like to really grow in your powers?”
So that was it.
It had all been a set up. …
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